Friday, April 26, 2024

Occupant Mistakes

Occupants of commercial real estate, also referred to as users or occupiers fall into two categories - tenants or owners. To draw a finer distinction - both are tenants - however one genre pays rent to an unrelated third party, a landlord and the other pays rent to a related owner of the building. Most common in the second type, is a real estate ownership structured as a limited liability company, LLC, and the occupier a corporation. 
Today, I want to focus upon some common mistakes I witness occupants make in their commercial real estate decisions. 
No agreements. Too frequently, I see this with occupants whose building ownership is synonymous with that of the operation. A building is purchased, many times with debt, and a mortgage payment is originated. Additionally, property taxes, insurance, and maintenance are incurred. Resulting is a payment - rent - which ownership charges the resident. Unfortunately, the payment has no relation to a market rent for a comparable building. The owner has her costs covered and believes everything is golden. Unfortunately, a subsidy - charging the company less than market - devalues the operation. If a market rent was charged, a deduction in profit results. Conversely, billing too much places undo strain upon the occupant and ready sources of capital are consumed. This can limit the ability to hire, buy machinery, and grow sales. 
Once a satisfactory market rent is determined, it’s critical to have a written agreement between the parties - outlining the rent, expenses, term, increases, and options. 
I once had a client forced to move because no written agreement existed between the owner and occupant. Unbeknownst to the occupant, the owner had deeded small portions of the building ownership to various entities, such as ex-wives, charities, ex-girlfriends, and the like. When the owner met his untimely demise, the occupant - who was also a small owner of the building - found himself without an agreement and many different factions wanting their equity. A trustee was appointed to sort out the mess. The trustee’s only course of action was to sell the building and force the tenant to relocate. Extreme, but it can happen.
Extension rights. Extension rights fall in to numerous categories including options to renew a lease term, options to purchase the building, options to terminate the lease, options to take additional space, rights of first refusal to purchase and lease, as well as rights of first refusal and rights of first offer to purchase the real estate. Clearly, these understandings must be in writing in order to avoid conflict. However, one of the problems I see is the agreements are too vague. As an example, maybe an occupant has the option to renew the term of their lease for five years upon the expiration of the original lease term. If the language simply says - and occupant can stay for an additional five years at a mutually agreeable rate, disagreements can occur -  because no mechanism exists to determine a fair rental rate. Therefore, it’s important for options to not only be in writing, but also have clear definitions as to how rents and purchase prices are to be calculated. I’m involved in one such exercise currently where the language is very specific. If the landlord and tenant cannot agree upon a rate, each appoints, an arbiter to make an independent evaluation of the market. If those two arbiters cannot come to an agreement, a third arbiter is appointed by the previous two and her determination is final. This is a cumbersome process, but one which will avoid any disagreement. Finally, make sure the market lease rate or market purchase price is based upon comparable buildings within a comparable sub-market with similar amenities. In other words, it’s unfair to compare a 4000 square-foot address in the Irvine Spectrum to a 100,000 square-foot building in Santa Fe Springs.
Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at or 714.564.7104. His website is

Friday, April 12, 2024

Random Thoughts

Ahh, springtime. Longer days, warmer temps, flowers abloom, the crack of the bat on opening day of MLB, NCAA final four, and the Masters golf tournament. You may be wondering how I have time to make any deals with all the sports happening this time of year. It’s tough. But in light of the screen time I’m spending, my thoughts these days are random. 

Please stay tuned as I run through a few thoughts I have clouding my consciousness. Someone famous once said - they’re only opinions, but they’re all mine”. 
Seller/buyer disconnect. I wrote an entire column on this topic last week. If you missed it, you can catch it online.
Not terribly long ago, we were immersed in a seller’s market. Occupant demand outstripped supply and sellers were bullish. Multiple offers were the norm. Asking prices were abandoned for the dreaded TBD in case pricing was pegged too low and money was left on the table. The amount of buyer activity determined the ultimate strike price. In order to compete in this frenzy, occupants were forced to shorten due diligence periods, jettison financing contingencies, and seemingly overpay. A listing translated into a guaranteed paycheck. 
My how the world has changed in two short years. The only thing keeping sales prices relatively stable is a lack of availabilities. 
Impact of our Presidential election. I get asked quite often what to expect if Mr. Trump is elected vs Mr. Biden. Generally, a republican administration can portend tax cuts, an increase in defense spending, loosening of government regulations, and the appurtenant boom in the economy. To the extent this boom causes prices to rise - interest rates must be hiked in order to cool the fever. 
Counter to this would be a democratic administration with higher taxes, cuts in defense, more regulation, and a weakening economy.   
Yes. I’m oversimplifying. I can hear the detractors screaming - we have a democrat in office and the economy is just fine. In our most recent republican tenure, government debt increased dramatically. So the above are only generalities. 
Bottom line. Who knows? 
What’s happening with our economy? Speaking of said economy, what’s up? Consumer confidence is high, over 300,000 jobs were added in March, labor participation rate is now close to two thirds. If the economy is in the doldrums - why are employers adding so many jobs? Granted a big portion of the new employment is in the service industry where folks are spending money to dine out, take trips and buy experiences. Meanwhile, we expected a declining interest rate market this year as we anticipated the Federal Reserve would start the march down with inflation coming to heel. As of this writing, our benchmark ten year treasuries are topping 4.4% - bad for borrowers, good for savers. Retailers in the beauty trade are taking their lumps as well. 
Bottom line. Who knows. 
Springtime spells new beginnings. Another year and another batch of things to ponder. Should be an eventful balance of 2024. 
Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at or 714.564.7104. His website is

Friday, April 5, 2024

Education of Buyers and Sellers As The Market Adjusts

In order for a real estate transaction to close - whether it is a lease or a sale - a properly motivated buyer and seller must be present. By this I mean you need an owner ready to make the next deal and an occupant who’s kicked the tires and is prepared to sign. Ideally, these motivations mesh into a synchronicity that is melodious. 
Currently, in our Southern California industrial real estate market we have a mismatch of expectations. Owners tend to remember how things were in early 2022 when occupant demand was robust, inventory was scarce, and interest rates were affordable. Folks who lease and buy these buildings perceive the opposite - a downturn in their business (less need for space), more addresses sitting vacant for longer, and borrowing costs that have doubled. A standoff akin to an old west gunfight has ensued. Fortunately, no one will be bodily harmed in said showdown. However, owners late to the fight may suffer financial losses. 
Today, I’d like to discuss our biggest task as commercial real estate brokers. That is educating owners and occupants to current market conditions. 
Understanding Market Dynamics. To grasp the current state of affairs, we need to delve into the factors shaping the industrial real estate market in Southern California. In the recent boom, investors favored constructing large warehouses for logistics operators, who primarily lease these spaces. Initially, the demand surged as online shopping soared, prompting distributors to expand their inventory storage. However, as the frenzy settled, warehouses across all submarkets now sit vacant, competing for tenants. While reducing rental rates seems a logical solution, constraints like promised returns to investors or fixed cost structures complicate matters.
Challenges Faced by Owners. Owners are grappling with the challenge of reconciling past experiences with present realities. Many are holding onto outdated expectations, hoping for a return to the heyday of early 2022. However, failing to acknowledge the shifts in demand, supply, and financing could lead to missed opportunities and financial losses.
Perspective of Occupants. Occupants, on the other hand, are feeling the impact of changing market conditions firsthand. With businesses adapting to new norms and uncertainties, the need for commercial space has shifted. This shift in demand has implications for leasing and purchasing decisions, as occupants navigate a landscape fraught with uncertainties.
The Broker's Role in Education. As brokers, our role extends beyond facilitating transactions; we are educators and advisors. Providing owners and occupants with comprehensive market insights, backed by data and analysis, is essential for setting realistic expectations and making informed decisions. By bridging the gap in understanding, we empower our clients to navigate market shifts with confidence.
Building Synchronicity and Moving Forward. Ultimately, success in commercial real estate hinges on collaboration and adaptability. By fostering open communication and collaboration between owners and occupants, we can work towards mutually beneficial outcomes. Embracing flexibility and adaptability allows us to navigate market shifts and seize opportunities as they arise, paving the way for continued success in an ever-changing landscape.
Education of owners and occupants is key to success in commercial real estate. By equipping buyers and sellers with the knowledge and insights needed to weather market shifts, we can bridge the gap in expectations and reach agreement. I’ve often opined - “allow the market to be the bad guy”. If I tell an owner - here’s how it is, I’m asking that reliance’s be placed upon my experience and credibility. I could be wrong. However, if we engage in a process of discovery - the market is sending the feedback. 
Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at or 714.564.7104. His website is